T R AV E L L E R STEPPES TRAVEL MAGAZINE
THE MURRAY RIVER WALK IN AUSTRALIA BY STEPPES CLIENTS ROBERT AND ELAINE DAVIS
A PORTRAIT OF WILD OMAN BY ARTIST VIOLET ASTOR A PASSION FOR LIONS IN KENYA BY AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST BRIAN JACKMAN RULES OF ENGAGEMENT IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS BY JOHN FAITHFUL
WHAT’S NEW The destinations and experiences that have caught our attention this year
STEPPES TRAVEL 30TH ANNIVERSARY TOURS
EXPERT INSIGHT | OVERTOURISM
CREATING CHANGE | TREES & SCIENCE
KENYA A Passion for Lions by Brian Jackman
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS Rules of Engagement by John Faithfull
UZBEKISTAN Cut from a Different Cloth by Deborah Brock-Doyle
AUSTRALIA Robert and Elaine Davies trek the Murray River
AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS More Than a Walk in the Park by Vanessa Humphrey
OMAN A Portrait of Wild Oman by Violet Astor
HIT THE ROAD | LEADING 4X4 JOURNEYS
CRUISE THE WORLD Ways to stretch your sea legs… across the globe
EGYPT Tracking Down an Ancient Civilisation by Tom Frost
INDIA Machali: A Legacy That Changed a Country by Jarrod Kyte and Julian Matthews
PIONEERING TRAVEL | GABON A photographic trip worth capturing in Central Africa
CAMEROON The Nguon and the Only Tourist by Chris Johnston
BRAZIL Oncafari: Getting Its Claws into Conservation by Mario Haberfeld
Monty Python is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. We at Steppes Travel will soon be celebrating our 30th anniversary. There is a scene in Life of Brian when Brian unwillingly addresses his followers from the balcony: “You don’t need to follow anybody,” he cries. “You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals.” “Yes, we’re all individuals!” They chorus back.
Brian tries again, “You’re all different!” “Yes, we are all different!” They reply in unison. Apart from Dennis. “I’m not,” he pipes up.
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CHINA A Different Asia by Paul Craven
EXPERT-LED GROUPS 2020
UGANDA Half Bird, Half Dinosaur by Charles Jewitt
CANADA Busy Bears by Roxy Dukes
EXPLORING OUR PLANET
MOZAMBIQUE Where Elephants and Whales Meet by Illona Cross
TURKEY Turning Back Time by Katie Benden
JAPAN Where Old Meets New by Lara Paxton
OUR TRAVEL READS
This edition of Traveller, the Steppes Travel magazine, is a call to find your inner Dennis.
Justin Wateridge Managing Director
Front Cover: Lion in the Masai Mara, Kenya Editorial: Steppes Travel Design: Seaside Inspired Steppes Traveller is the magazine of Steppes Travel, 51 Castle Street, Cirencester, GL7 1QD, United Kingdom
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PLASTIC-FREE CRUISE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS M/V Conservation A new ship is scheduled to set sail in the Galapagos which promises to set benchmarks in sustainability. The ship will operate totally plastic free, the first to achieve this in the Galapagos Islands. A cabin will also be set aside during every departure for use by researchers from the Charles Darwin Research Centre and clients can meet with them to get insight into their work.
Our motto is ‘discover extraordinary’ and that idea lives at the core of every holiday we create, expert that we work with and new experience that we dig up. As is the way with every new edition of our magazine, the Steppes Travel team has brought you the very latest updates from our world of captivating travel. We hope that you enjoy exploring them and find something extraordinary. And remember, this is just a snippet of what is waiting to be discovered and you can always find out more at steppestravel.com.
ELECTRIC SAFARI VEHICLES PARK UP IN KENYA The peace and quiet of the bush just got quieter at Lewa Wilderness Lodge, based at the foot of Mt. Kenya. The lodge has recently taken delivery of East Africa’s first electricpowered safari vehicle (which uses solar energy to charge the batteries). The vehicle is as powerful as its fuel-guzzling counterparts but does not startle the wildlife with the sound of a diesel engine. Carbon-free safaris are fast becoming a reality.
SANGHA LODGE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC Combine Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve with Congo’s Odzala National Park, thanks to new flight and boat connections. Staying at Sangha Lodge, visit the incomparable Dzanga Bai, venture into the forest with the Ba’Aka and meet pangolin researchers. The bai – or forest clearing – is regularly visited by forest elephants, forest buffalos, sitatunga, red river hogs, bongos and western lowland gorillas. This is wild Africa where the elephants and lowland gorillas outnumber the tourists.
NICARAGUA’S WILD COAST “I have finally found what I’ve been looking for in Costa Rica – it’s in Nicaragua.” We recently sent Chris Haslam from The Sunday Times to the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and he was blown away by the wild landscape, the fascinating people and the exceptional wildlife. The east coast has a distinct feel from the more colonial west. Trek through jungles, go fishing for snapper in the mangroves, kayak the San Juan River and relax on the exquisite beaches of the Corn Islands. 4 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2019
PUREPODS SPRING UP IN NEW ZEALAND Set in six secluded locations on New Zealand’s South Island, each PurePod is a luxurious glass cabin surrounded by the elements. The units stand alone and are made from heavy duty glass, so you can feel a complete sense of immersion in the natural surroundings. Lie in bed at night and count the stars in the endless southern sky. Each PurePod is solar powered and Wi-Fi free to ensure complete tranquillity.
SET SAIL IN RAJA AMPAT Komodo National Park is likely to close for a year in January 2020 in order to restore the habitat and prey base of the eponymous dragons. Raja Ampat makes for a spectacular alternative to Komodo – especially now that Aqua have launched their impressive new yacht. Previously the Royal Navy’s HMS Beagle, Aqua Blu is a long-range luxury yacht with 15 individually-designed suites and an expansive sundeck.
STEPPES TRAVEL RETURNS TO EASTERN TURKEY Home to some of the most fascinating archaeological sites found anywhere in the world, eastern Turkey has a strong allure for the curious traveller. Visit the world’s first temple, Gobekli Tepe, the world’s largest alkaline lake and one of the highest peaks of Mesopotamia, Mount Nemrut. This area is certainly not new to Steppes Travel, but with the FCO now moderating its travel advice, we are delighted to be offering trips to this region again.
BUCOLIC BHUTAN KHOTOKHA VALLEY Throughout the Himalayan kingdom, hidden valleys known as baeyuls can be found. These are revered by local people and believed to be watched over by supernatural beings. One such valley not yet on the tourist trail is Khotokha, in western Bhutan. Our partner and good friend in Bhutan is converting an ancestral farmhouse in Khotokha into the Namo Retreat – a wellness getaway that promises impeccable eco-credentials, a bucolic setting and spectacular views of the valley.
NEW LUXURY, MOBILE CAMP IN GUJARAT Kaafila operate mobile, luxury camps which to date have been set up for Steppes Travel clients in the Himalayan foothills of Ladakh and the open plains of Central India. We have been working with the owners to come up with a journey that covers Gujarat and they have found a spectacular site on the salt flats of the Great Rann of Kutch. Visit remote tribal villages, search for Gujarat's endemic wildlife and discover the exquisite textiles of Bhuj.
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A PASSION FOR
LIONS Written by
It was 1974 – my first visit to Africa – and the first time I had ever flown in a tiny six-seater bush plane. 45 minutes after leaving Nairobi, we reduced altitude to touch down in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, bouncing from thermal to thermal over endless plains on which herds of buffalo stampeded away and elephants stood and watched us. >
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Even before I had stepped onto the airstrip, I knew it would be love at first sight. The rains had just ended and the kiangazi had begun – the dry season that would tempt the migrating herbivores to pour in from the Serengeti. The ripening oat grass had not yet been eaten down. Instead, it stood tall, rippling in the wind like the waves of the sea towards a horizon that seemed like the edge of the world. It was here, on the next day, that I saw my first lion. We had got up at dawn to find the cats before they went flat. And we hadn’t gone far when I saw him sitting on a termite mound, with his mane backlit by the rising sun. Then he began to roar; his breath condensing in the sharp highland air, like smoke from a dragon’s nostrils. Who could fail to be hooked by lions after a moment like that? The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. And with each earth-shaking groan, I felt myself falling deeper and deeper under the spell of this wild kingdom. Since then, I have lost count of the number of lions I have seen and heard. But from that day on, they have continued to walk through my life and my dreams. When you’ve been away from lions for a long time, you can’t wait to meet up with them. Fellow big cat fanatics will know the feeling. And even when I return to Africa now, I lie awake in my tent at night unable to sleep until I have heard them grunting in the darkness. Long since hard-wired by evolution for a life on the plains, lions inhabit a parallel universe that is far older and wilder than ours. And for three years in the Mara, I was privileged to enter their world and wake each morning to the sound of their thunderous voices. That was in the late 1970s, when Jonathan Scott and I were following a pride of lions whose territory lay around Musiara Marsh, near Governor’s Camp. The result was a bestseller called The Marsh Lions – a true-life story that revolved around Scar, Brando and Mkubwa, the powerful coalition of pride males that ruled Musiara. I didn’t know it then, but what I had stumbled on was the greatest wildlife showcase in Africa. It is hard to believe now, but few people had even heard of the Masai Mara until 1977. The Serengeti was where you went if you wanted to see lions, but tourism in the Mara was in its infancy. Those were the days when you could drive all the way from the Musiara Gate to the Serengeti border with only the ruts of old tyre tracks to indicate the outside world had come this far. And to look out across its rolling plains from the top of the Oloololo Escarpment was to stand at the gates of heaven.
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ALWAYS A PRIDE OF AFRICA By the time The Marsh Lions was published, the Musiara pride had become as familiar to me as old friends. Sometimes – with Scar lying alongside me in the grass as I parked – I would wonder what it must feel like to be a lion. Surely the warmth of the sun on his tawny flanks must have been as pleasing to him as it was to me? Sights, sounds and the ineluctable smells of the African bush – all of the things we shared. But what else went on behind that implacable visage would always remain a mystery. In those days, the pride consisted of between 15 and 20 lions – with two or three adult males, half a dozen lionesses and their cubs. Today’s prides tend to be smaller. The latest data for the National Reserve reveals a population of 1.7 lions for every ten square kilometres – giving a total of 200 to 300 lions aged one year old or more within the 1,500-squarekilometre reserve. This is a figure that still makes it one of the last great places to see lions, while the adjoining private conservancies have some of the highest lion densities in Africa.
Join Brian Jackman on safari in the Masai Mara in June 2020. Seven days for ÂŁ5,995pp.
WRITTEN BY JOHN FAITHFULL
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS RULES OF ENGAGEMENT I was not a repeat rule-breaker as a child. The closest I came to expressing my anarchic side was in junior school, when I set the timers on around 20 school-issue alarm clocks so that they would all go off during a parent-teacher meeting. Hardly James Dean. Instead, I used to hang out with the wilder kids and get my thrills vicariously through their detention-earning adventures, as well as through the punk music that turned the world upside-down in the late seventies and early eighties. Scroll forward 40 years and my world has been civilised – job, mortgage and marriage. I’ve now become one of those bores that we used to kick against. However – and yes, I’m finally getting to the point – I’m currently in the Galapagos and Ecuador’s wild and untamed wonderland of raw nature. This geological conveyor belt of islands rose from the Pacific in a flourish of volcanic fireworks, before being tectonically dragged into crumbling submersion over the course of 10 million years and a couple of hundred kilometres. It’s a distant 13 years since my last visit; albeit a geological nanosecond. I’ve changed. The islands and wildlife have not. >
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“The science of the Galapagos Islands is astonishing and to visit is an intensely educational experience.”
Despite years of travel in the interim, including many outstanding wildlife experiences, I find myself taken aback and even more surprised this time by the variety of life that is scattered throughout the islands and how unaffected it is by our presence. A great deal has been written about man’s interaction with this isolated archipelago of islands, from unverified reports of early indigenous occupation to its discovery by Tomas de Berlanga (Bishop of Panama) in 1535. Pirates and whalers followed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before the seminal arrival of Mr Darwin in 1835. A dawning awareness of the natural value of the Galapagos Islands resulted in the establishing of the first sanctuaries in 1934, the creation of a national park in 1959 (that covered 97% of the archipelago) and a marine reserve in 1986 that has expanded to become one of the world’s largest. In the 21st century, conservation bodies are facing a huge struggle to protect the Galapagos Islands from global threats of pollution, plastics, climate
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change and invasive species. This accompanies a delicate balancing act of allowing access to tourists while limiting their impact on the natural order. Consequently, there are rules. Strict rules of conduct apply to all visitors to the islands and your guide is charged with enforcing them. Two of the key requirements are that you stick to the paths and stay at least six feet away from wildlife. Both are a challenge – not because they limit your experience, but because the wildlife refuses to obey and consistently flouts the rules. Marine iguanas blockade paths, boobies nest where they see fit and sea lions persistently invade your personal snorkelling space. Far from being the highly-managed and restrictive experience that the regulations suggest, a visit to the Galapagos Islands is one of the most liberating and engaging nature experiences on our planet. Here, you aren’t a tourist as much as a temporary part of the whole ecosystem, which is why playing your part in conserving the islands is paramount.
It was while visiting Espanola Island and on a windswept walk to Suarez Point that I had a brush with the leader of the archipelago’s Wild Bunch, the Galapagos hawk. This elusive apex predator was louchely hanging out on a ‘stop’ sign that was intended to deter hikers from tumbling off a coastal cliff bluff. As my small group gathered around (religiously respecting the six-foot rule), the hawk remained nonchalant, disinterested and almost disdainful of these acolytes who were obviously convening to pay respect to the feathered ‘God of the Galapagos’. The hawk was a large and cocky juvenile that knew no fear, and it was interrogating and subjugating us with its shockinglyintense stare.
“A visit to the Galapagos Islands is one of the most liberating and engaging nature experiences on our planet.”
I’m fascinated by the science, biology and behaviour of the animal kingdom, but I am equally inspired by a perceived beauty, ugliness, grace and brutality. My fantasy Galapagos Islands cruise companions would include Henry Williamson, Beatrix Potter, Jack London, Richard Adams, George Orwell, Kenneth Grahame and Roald Dahl. Can you imagine the flights of fancy that would ensue? Of course, the science of the Galapagos Islands is astonishing and to visit is an intensely educational experience. But don’t let yourself be told that this is the only world view, and occasionally let your imagination take the driving seat. Anthropomorphising is fun and there is a story waiting to be told about every one of these charismatic species.
Then it struck me – the Galapagos hawk is the Johnny Rotten of the islands and we were replaying that famous 1976 Bill Grundy interview with the Sex Pistols. Never mind the boobies, here’s the Galapagos hawk! On the Origin of Species was considered heretical when first published, as Darwin dared to hypothesise a new world order. We now live in an age of information and understanding where everyone can be a budding naturalist and can scientifically explain the world around them and their place in it.
If you choose to visit the Galapagos Islands, then do stick to the paths, listen to your guides and learn about the remarkable natural world into which you have just been immersed. But try breaking just a few of the rules regarding how we perceive and understand this magical world where five-metre-long manta rays glide past, sea lions blow bubbles in your face, sea birds have red and blue feet and punky Galapagos hawks scowl at the square tourists.
Galapagos Islands 10-day holiday from £4,745pp.
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THE MURRAY RIVER WALK:
A GREAT WALK OF AUSTRALIA One of the questions so often asked before a big holiday is, “Do you think it will live up to your expectations?” Our response is that we go with an open mind and will wait and see how it turns out. This way you are often very pleasantly surprised. >
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WRITTEN BY ROBERT AND ELAINE DAVIS
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We discussed the politics of the water management from the catchment area that covers one-third of Australia’s land mass. Inter-state disagreements happen the world over! Irrigation from the river has turned the desert, through which it flows, into a highly productive fruit-and winegrowing region. But in severe drought, there may be a drastic reduction in the availability of water – or in the worst-case scenario, none at all. The flip side to this is that, like all rivers, the Murray can flood and bring a different sort of devastation. Being a farmer in Australia can be nerve-wracking. We walked through part of the old Chowilla sheep station – measuring around 240,000 hectares – which has been sold back to the government to be rewilded as a wetland area for wildlife.
During our recent holiday to Australia, the Murray River Walk proved just this point. Having experienced a ‘Great Walk of Australia’ previously, Steppes Travel informed us of a new walk on the Murray River, which we were keen to sign up for. We enjoy walking and wildlife, and this looked like a great adventure. Unfortunately, the last scheduled walk departed the week before we were able to get to the Riverlands. “No problem,” said Kate at Steppes Travel, who had spoken with Tony, the owner, and managed to agree to add an extra departure. True to his word, Tony accommodated us - a classic example of the Aussie can-do attitude that we love. We met in Renmark on the first morning and were greeted with great enthusiasm as the first English couple to complete the walk. The other walkers with us were from Canberra and Sydney and made us very welcome. After spending four days walking alongside them, we learnt what it is really like to live in Australia – an interesting opportunity to really get under the surface of a country. Before the walk, we had very little knowledge about this particular area in Australia, but this was going to change dramatically. Our guide told us about the historical importance of the Murray River as an exploration conduit and a vital trading route. He explained about the installation of the lock system to help make the river navigable and that the benefit today is that it has created a large river-land recreational area.
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Climbing up and down the multi-coloured sandy escarpments beside the river, the geology of the ancient landscape through which the river flows was revealed. The guides’ knowledge of the river and the flora and fauna was most impressive. They were all extremely enthusiastic and great fun.
“We walked through part of the old Chowilla sheep station – measuring around 240,000 hectares.”
We saw a profusion of different birds, as well as many kangaroos. Travelling on foot enabled us to get close to the wildlife. We also came across evidence of aboriginal activities; bark removed from the trees to make canoes and shields, as well as an old site of habitation with stone-cutting tools waiting for the archaeologists to visit. We learnt a bit about ‘bush tucker’ and picked our own saltbush leaves to add to scrambled eggs for breakfast. The walking was very varied, as the billabongs meandered back and forth from the main river, creating different habitats. Tapping them first to check for snakes, we found shady logs on which to sit while eating our delicious lunches. After long days walking, we were welcomed to our accommodation: a very comfortable houseboat on the river. One of Tony’s school chums is now a top Australian chef who designs his menus with great emphasis on local produce. The wines at dinner showcased small local producers with some very unusual grape varietals. We could not fault the whole experience and thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to get off the normal tourist route. Take a bit of exercise, see some great wildlife and get a bit further under the skin of Australia.
Thank you to our clients, Robert and Elaine Davis, for writing a fantastic blog about their recent experiences in Australia. To find out more about the Murray River and Australia, get in touch with one of our travel experts today and start planning your next adventure.
Australia 10-day holiday from £5,995pp.
ENJOY CLEAR THINKING. Travel is a personal journey as much as a geographical one; and it should take shape exactly as you see fit. We believe in providing you with a blank canvas to create your getaway, sharing our expertise when and where it matters the most and then making it happen for you. Let us help you to put your unique mark on your next holiday by contacting us on 01285 601 070 or (USA) 844 675 1044.
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YOURS , TRULY. Like the stars, weâ€™re here to guide you. And unlike many tour operators, we are here to do that in a way that is both impartial and personal. Truly tailor-made travel does not have to be rocket science â€“ and we have been proving that is the case for 30 years. Get in touch with the team today on 01285 601 070 or (USA) 844 675 1044 to create an out-of-this-world experience.
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WRITTEN BY VIOLET ASTOR
A PORTRAIT OF WILD
OMAN I had long dreamed of filling my days with the things that bring my soul to life: wildlife, art and travel. Following a bout of Lyme’s disease three years ago, I decided that the time had come to blend these three passions in a way which supports the things I love so dearly. So off I travelled in the name of conservation, putting charcoal to paper to capture nature’s most delicate creatures in places which constantly leave me galvanised. When I was asked to visit Oman and create artworks mixed with local dyes to support the Environment Society of Oman, I was dumbstruck. My mind instantly and excitedly raced with a kaleidoscope of imagery depicting the people, landscape and wildlife that I believed were set to greet me. And I wasn’t to be disappointed. From the moment I set down in the kind and remarkable nation, I found that something different was waiting for me at every turn. It was an artist’s dream; where inspiration followed you constantly and morphed into many forms. Each one even more distinct than the next. Oman’s wildlife is celebrated yet endangered – and I was determined to honour it. My exploration took me to Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve and the home of the Arabian tahr, wolves, hyenas and the Nubian ibex. I instantly became immersed in the landscape. As I travelled over the vast jebels and through the deep wadis, I continually kept watch for signs of life. Above all, I longed to catch a glimpse of the Arabian leopard, – a cunning yet shy prowler of Dhofar’s mountain ranges. My hands were always at the ready to seize my camera and goosebumps roused my skin when I thought I saw one’s slender body shifting across the horizon. Next, we made our way to a steaming and rancid dump outside of Salalah. While not the most glamorous of locations, the area attracts an aerie of endangered steppe eagles. These incredible aviators – with wingspans of over 20 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2019
200 centimetres – were being tagged and tracked by researcher Mike McGrady and his team. To be able to get so close to them – to look into their focussed eyes – helped me study more than just their form. I suspected a warm nature was hidden beneath the angular, piercing aesthetics – and one we must protect fiercely. I didn’t get long enough with the eagles. And I’m surprised to say that it was hard to leave the dump. But I was urged on to Rakhyut – a sleepy fishing village, where beautiful white cliffs sharply crash into deep-blue water. The scenery was simply spectacular. However, out at sea, I could sense there was more to be discovered. There are many tales of encounters with dolphins, nesting sea turtles and the unique, non-migratory Arabian Sea humpback whales. One of the most cherished parts of what I do is learning local traditions of making natural dye. I was introduced to a
wonderful Jabali woman who uses indigo dye to make frankincense incense pots. The dye was also used to colour the mask she was wearing – something all Bedouin women do. The mask didn’t stop us from communicating and I eagerly soaked up all the knowledge she had to offer. Considering the obvious limitations, we connected with such ease, sharing stories and articulating our experiences as both people and women. As I left, she passed me a brick of indigo that was delicately wrapped for my travels. We shared warm wishes and I wandered away with early visions of my artwork streaked with this beautiful colour – another addition to the wondrous list of inspirations and life-long memories I had taken from Oman.
The Omani Wildlife exhibition will be held at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture’s Sayyid Faisal Bin Ali’s Museum adjoining the Natural History Museum in Muscat during the first two weeks of November. A percentage of proceeds will be going to the Environment Society of Oman.
Oman 12-day holiday from £2,995pp.
CRUISE THE WORLD WITH
STEPPES TRAVEL W E’R E H ER E TO M A K E WAV E S It’s easy to think that the advent of air travel has left voyaging by water redundant. Far from it – we haven’t even begun to break through the surface of possibilities the world’s rivers, seas and oceans offer. Our cruises and boat-based tours are immersive, often pioneering and go against the current when it comes to what you see and experience. We only work with small, intimate ships that allow you the freedom to dive into every moment; we make sure you can reach untouched coves or cut easily through vast fields of pack ice with innovative vessels; and our itineraries are created in a way which means you’re certain to discover what’s extraordinary about each destination. All of this – whether it’s cruising through monolithic polar landscapes or meandering down the serene Yangtze River – is now waiting. Here are some of our favourite concepts and cruises. Get in touch to request your free Cruise the World brochure email@example.com
Polar Voyages For memorable experiences at the ends of the earth, join an ice-strengthened ship, crewed by a dedicated team of experienced polar experts. Steppes Travel has worked with the best polar operators for over 15 years and so can match the right ship and itinerary with your individual needs. Whether you’re looking to trace the footsteps of Shackleton in South Georgia or photograph polar bears on a glacier in the High Arctic, we know how to turn these aspirations into memories that will endure for many years to come.
Antarctic Cruise - Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula 19 days from £12,500pp | Departures from November to February each year
Sailing Adventures Setting sail on a voyage at sea is the very epitome of the spirit of adventure. Our collection is a choice of our favourite small ship cruising destinations, covering Europe and Indonesia. In Europe, we have hand-picked our favourite gulets, catamarans, cruisers and yachts; while in Indonesia, we have chosen the best traditional, phinisi-style boats. You can either join a trip with other like-minded passengers or you can charter the boats for your own private group.
Turkey - The Aegean Coast to the North Dodecanese Islands 11 days from £2,395pp | Departures from April to October each year
Rivers For millennia, rivers have provided a lifeline that has led to the creation of civilizations all over the world. Today, people still live by the world’s most iconic rivers, often side by side with the legacies their ancestors have left behind. Follow their course and you are sure to discover people with a fascinating history, culture and strong sense of place. Our collection of river cruises concentrates on North Africa and Asia, where the rivers are revered and continue to shape the lives of the people who depend on them.
India – Ganges Cruise 13 days from £3,895pp | Departures from August to end of September each year that include Varanasi.
Wildlife Our collection of wildlife cruises provides the perfect platform from which to encounter wildlife in a memorable but respectful fashion. The emphasis is on getting off the ship, using tenders and Zodiacs to explore secret waterways or landing on remote islands to see wildlife on foot. Using only small ships, you will be able to access coves and inlets that bigger ships cannot access. So, while the wildlife will be prolific, the tourist footfall will be less so.
Canada – British Columbia 11 days from £4,295pp | Departures from April to October
Australasia From Australia to New Zealand and from Papua New Guinea to Polynesia, our collection of Australasian cruises covers some of the world’s most spectacular oceans and river networks. Visit fascinating tribes on a journey up the Sepik River in PNG or visit the remote island community of Marquesa in the South Pacific. To experience the wilds of the Australian outback, visit the Kimberleys on board the luxury ship, True North.
Australia - The Kimberleys 14 days from £12,895pp | Departures from mid-March to early September
A LEGACY THAT CHANGED A COUNTRY
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WRITTEN BY JARROD KYTE AND JULIAN MATTHEWS
The eagerly awaited tiger census results were published in July 2019 and, as anticipated, tiger numbers in India have increased by 33%, from 2,226 to 2,967 since the last census in 2014. The reluctant poster boy of endangered animals everywhere, the tiger’s plight is indicative of the pressure the whole of the animal kingdom faces. All over the world, burgeoning human populations are encroaching onto wildlife habitats and as a result, human-wildlife conflict is on the increase. But if the world’s second most populous country can find a way to accommodate the tiger, then there is hope for endangered animals all over the planet. India’s positive tiger census results remind me of a safari I enjoyed in Ranthambore back in 2013… “This is the territory of Machali, a very special tigress…” Mohan, our guide in Ranthambore National Park, was not a demonstrative man and certainly not prone to histrionics, but when he spoke of Machali his eyes sparkled and his voice took on a tone of pride and reverence. “She is almost 18 years old and is the oldest wild tiger in the world.” I did not see Machali on my safari in Ranthambore, but I did come across her daughter, Krishna. I spent a memorable morning with Mohan enthusiastically holding court, explaining the dynamics of tiger courtship, while Krishna and an enthusiastic male tiger dutifully performed a practical lesson no more than five metres from our vehicle. >
How do economics and conservation overlap?
“They are, after all, the world’s favourite animal. ” Julian Matthews
Machali was a remarkable animal, defying all the odds to live to the age of 20 years old, outwitting hostile male tigers, aggressive sloth bears and poachers to bring 11 cubs into the world. The ‘Grand Matriarch of Ranthambore’ was a born survivor and even as old age (and a fight with a mugger crocodile) cruelly deprived her of her canine teeth, she still managed to hunt and kill successfully. Tigers are ambush hunters and their usual method is to knock the prey off balance and use their giant canines to make a killing bite on the neck. Machali adopted an alternative killing method that involved breaking the prey’s neck rather than puncturing or suffocating the animal with her teeth. The legacy left by Machali, following her death in 2015, is a park that currently boasts a thriving population of approximately 70 tigers (up from 50 tigers at the time of her death). While conservationists believe that almost 50% of the tigers being seen today in Ranthambore are of Machali’s lineage, her legacy goes beyond the borders of one national park. Two of Machali’s female cubs were relocated to Rajasthan’s other reserve, Sariska, and have successfully boosted the park numbers up to 14 animals. While Machali was alive, Travel Operators For Tigers estimated that she was responsible for boosting the local economy to the tune of $100 million over a period of 10 years. The mantra of ‘if it pays, it stays’ is the watchword of conservation, and tourism offers the perfect mechanism for local communities to realise the potential value of the wildlife living on their doorsteps. I was keen to get a greater understanding of how animals like Machali can become a catalyst for conservation. To do this, I spoke to Julian Matthews, founder of TOFTigers, to get an insight into what he calls ‘tigernomics’. What follows is a transcript of our conversation:
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The reality is that free water, clean air and warm sunshine - our natural capital - sadly don’t pay the day-to-day bills in today’s world. A local villager living beside a river that borders a rich biodiverse forest cannot exchange the water that flows past his house, the clean air he breathes and the warm sunshine on his back to ensure daily food. He still must cut down the trees for fuel, make new fields from the clearance and graze his cows in the forest peripheries. We should look to use the principles of a capitalist economy to save our own planet from the wholesale destruction it is facing. Turn ‘nature’ - all too often seen as free and by this reckoning valueless to humankind - into something that has tangible and quantifiable value.
And ‘tigernomics’? Tigernomics are working in parts of India and Nepal, using the one creature society values beyond any real logical reasoning the tiger. We’re now creating valuable rural economies out of the huge industry of watching, rather than hunting, these beautiful wild cats. They are, after all, the world’s favourite animal.
Is tourism just about providing cash for local communities? Travellers pay handsomely to see the mystical cat in its mythical lands. Many return home to friends and family to advocate passionately for the tigers’ long-term protection, becoming lifelong ambassadors for nature. Furthermore, safari-goers make authorities and protectors accountable for what lives in these wild landscapes. Tourism funds the building of an economy that generates rural jobs and new livelihoods that make a landscape and its creatures worth preserving, economically and intrinsically. No other business does this quite so well, or quite so effectively. Tourism is vital to the long-term survival of India’s wildlife and wild places. It is no coincidence that the parks with the highest number of tourists each year also have the highest number of tigers. Machali was the spark that started the fire. Her story and her legacy go far beyond Rajasthan. She made the Indian government realise the latent economic potential of tigers all over India and, in doing so, this has created a universal framework that helps protect endangered wildlife all over the world.
India - 12 days from ÂŁ3,895pp.
WRITTEN BY CHRIS JOHNSTON
THE NGUON AND THE ONLY TOURIST
Shielding my eyes from the West African sun, it is not the red and yellow harlequins that catch my eye. Nor is it the pink-feathered dancers reeling through the crowd or the boys wrapped from head to toe in coloured cloth, like psychedelic mummies. What really holds my attention is the 40-foothigh model spider – complete with fangs and hair – riding a two-headed snake. I resist the urge to pinch myself. Striking women glide past, bold make-up painted onto their coy faces. Men dressed in flowing west African Agbada robes swagger through the crowd, greeting each other. Regal emirs in long black cloaks and mirrored shades walk past. With my head still spinning, a man in top hat and tails appears, puts his arm around me and takes a selfie. “Bienvenue a Nguon!” he says, with a shake of the hand. Welcome to the Nguon Festival, Foumban, in the western highlands of Cameroon. Known as Sheme Ngu in the local language, it is over 500 years old. This wonderfully eclectic event draws members of the Bamoun community from across West Africa. Originally established to settle land disputes, this biennual harvest festival is now a week-long celebration of Bamoun culture. Horse parades, mock battles, food and trading all take place. It is also a chance for the people of the region to pay homage to the ruling sultan. Two days earlier, I arrived in Douala – a vibrant, colourful city with a languid, tropical charm. After a day exploring faded colonial buildings, I headed north. The drive was an adventure. I spent a night near the spectacular (and sacred) Ekom Falls to break the journey, before the steamy jungle slowly gave way to high grasslands. The small but comfortable minibus rumbled along the dusty, cracked road. The air-con clicking on and off with every bump. The regular police checkpoints were more annoying than threatening, becoming more relaxed the further from the city I travelled. The last checkpoint before town was a breeze and after the promise of a beer, I was waved through with a smile.
“With my head still spinning, a man in top hat and tails appears, puts his arm around me and takes a selfie.”
Reaching Foumban, I got out to stretch my legs. I looked up to see a skyline dotted with weathered medieval turrets. Topped with carved animals and other symbols, they reveal a deep-rooted animism but also denote the homes of royal courtiers. Mama, my guide, is one such courtier and local chief. He appears out of nowhere and cuts a striking figure. Nearly seven-foot-tall and dressed impeccably in spotless white robes and a skull cap, he looks every inch the royal. I ask him how he found me so quickly. He smiles as he answers, “You are the only white person here.” As befits a royal of his standing, he is a man of few words. By contrast, his son Abdul – who also joins him – is very much the playboy prince. Smart loafers and a giant watch are hidden under an outfit of rich blue silk. Full of energy and charm, he greets me warmly. “You made it!” he exclaims, seeming equally surprised and happy. Together, we make our way towards the palace. Mama glides through the crowds – who part on his approach – while I follow in his wake. I ask Abdul more about the sultan, in between him greeting his friends. “Being a sultan is a huge honour,” he says, shaking numerous hands. “You are sultan for life. It is not hereditary and so anyone can be chosen, but they are always male. Here, let me show you.” >
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We arrive at a large mural on the palace wall that is covered in the portraits of past sultans – their names and the dates of their rule written beautifully, in both French and Arabic. It reveals a royal lineage stretching back to the 1300s. There are some impressively long reigns – 40, 50 and 65 years – but then one that reads just 30 minutes. I ask what happened. “She was a woman,” Abdul says, by way of an explanation. At the top of the mural, I see an image of a spider and twoheaded snake and realise this is the royal coat of arms. “Why these animals?” I ask. Delighted to talk about Bamoun culture, Abdul launches into a long story about these proud people. He explains that they are hardworking and always busy – hence the spider. And their warriors are feared and strike quickly – hence the snake. It transpires that the statue which I saw earlier is the roof of the new palace-cum-museum. Inside, there is a treasure of thrones, royal gowns and ceremonial objects. I look back in the distance to see the spider and, irrational as it may be, the arachnophobe in me shivers. We continue to the palace gates. On seeing Mama, the royal guards wave us through and we leave behind a scrum of worshippers haggling to get in. I stop and stare at the medieval scene before me. Tribes from across the kingdom are queueing to meet the sultan – their heads adorned with skulls and horns, and robes covered in skins and scales. Baskets or rifles slung over their shoulders, they wait patiently as traditional dancers entertain the crowds. Hundreds of courtiers sit in a semicircle around the throne, with enormous feathered hats shielding them from the sun. A few nod to Mama as we arrive. At the centre of it all – in dazzling robes and spears crossed on the throne behind him – sits the sultan himself, greeting his subjects one by one. While the king is clearly adored, this festival is also a show of strength to the incumbent and controversial president, Paul Biya. Having ruled Cameroon for 36 years, Biya is wary of any authority that is not his own. The sultan rules benignly – but absolutely – over some one million subjects. Support for the president declines the closer to Foumban you get; Biya’s roadside election posters became increasingly defaced on the drive here. In the town itself, all his posters are painted black. But this is a celebration of one of Africa’s last feudal kingdoms, not a protest. Cameroon is a country in the middle of its own identity crisis. Skirmishes in the far north
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and unrest in the English-speaking regions mean Nguon is seen as a festival of hope and an affirmation of identity – a centuriesold constant in changing times. It is, however, a living culture and is always changing. Nguon is a pagan festival in an Islamic society, lending the proceedings added colour. Islam is welcomed here and then absorbed into the Bamoun identity. As if to remind me of this, a call to prayer rings out in the distance and the crowd answers in the setting sun. A group of proud elderly women invite me to sit with them to watch the proceedings. I try to find some common ground and, as we talk in broken French, I notice their tattoos. Small spiders sit on the sides of their faces and snakes on their wrists. I risk asking for a picture and they are delighted. But before they let me photograph them, they carefully cover their heads with scarves and put their handbags on their laps. They all ask to see my photos and tell me to delete the ones they don’t like. They are the wives of one of the emirs, whom I notice sitting quietly to one side. He looks impressive in his court robes, but I notice that behind his shades his eyes are closed and he is fast asleep.
I turn my attention back to the king and amongst all this royal finery, an old man stands out. Not because of his elaborate costume, but because of its simplicity. A small leather pouch is perched around his neck, his feet are bare and he is wearing a crown of freshly-picked leaves. I wonder what journey has brought him here, before a bell is rung and the man steps forward to kneel before his ruler.
Cameroon 12-day group tour £5,395pp.
Reaching into his pouch, he drops something tiny into the sultan’s outstretched hand. The king passes this to his aide in exchange for a gift, which the old man takes. The sultan mutters something inaudible and even though his head is bowed, I see the old man’s face light up with a grin. The sultan grins back, before placing a hand gently on the man’s shoulders. The bell rings again and the moment passes. The old man rises slowly and walks past the nobles, barefoot and happy, back to his life and family with a tale to tell. It is also my time to go. It is getting dark, but the festivities will continue through the night. I leave the crowd and make my way slowly out of the gates, simply trying to take it all in. I say my goodbyes to Mama and Abdul. They thank me for coming and wish me well on my trip through Cameroon, then disappear into the crowd – soon lost in the fading light. I turn and see the top of the palace – the spider and snakes guarding the stately treasures – and hope that it is safe for the next 500 years. UK: 01285 601070 | USA: 844 675 1044 | email@example.com | steppestravel.com 31
THIRTY YEARS OF TAILOR-MADE TRAVEL For the last 30 years, Steppes Travel has been creating tailor-made holidays that embody the spirit of adventure. We have drawn on our experience to come up with six holidays that we feel epitomise this approach. While these trips cover different styles of travel and cater to different motivations for travelling, they all have in common the desire to push boundaries and discover the extraordinary.
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Pioneering BACK TO OUR ROOTS ON THE STEPPES OF THE MONGOLIAN ALTAI Forget Google Maps – they haven’t discovered this part of Mongolia yet. You will just have to trust us and step into the unknown on this journey to a land of nomads and spectacular wilderness. Across the border, in the Russian Altai, Steppes Travel ran its first trip 30 years ago. Neither the landscape nor the people have changed in this time. The sense of space is liberating.
Mongolia - 13 days western Altai tour £5,995pp.
Voyage IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE GREAT EXPLORERS – EXPEDITION CRUISE TO ANTARCTICA’S ROSS SEA Colossal ice-shelves and bergs make the Ross Sea landscape the most dramatic in the whole of Antarctica. Visit emperor penguin colonies and the early explorer huts of Scott and Shackleton. The vast Ross Sea ice-shelf is hugely impressive and helicopter excursions to get a bird’s-eye view add an exciting element to an already exceptional trip. Antarctica - 28 days on a Ross Sea Expedition cruise from £28,350pp.
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Wildlife THE ULTIMATE WILDLIFE THRILL - SEEING A TIGER IN KIPLING COUNTRY Nothing prepares you for seeing a tiger in the wild for the first time. With results from the recent tiger census revealing an increase in numbers, there has never been a better time to see the world’s most iconic big cat. Steppes Travel not only knows the best lodges and parks to see tigers in the wild, we can help you meet with the conservationists responsible for the current boom in tiger numbers. India - 12 days from £3,895pp
Wilderness SPACE TRAVEL AND DESERT-ADAPTED WILDLIFE IN NORTHWEST NAMIBIA The Hoanib Valley and the Skeleton Coast are some of Africa’s most wild and untouched regions. The feeling that one is stepping onto a landscape that time has somehow forgotten is a profound experience. While the conditions are hostile, elephants, lions and giraffes have adapted to make this corner of Namibia their home. Seeing them in this spectacular environment makes for one of Africa’s most memorable safaris. Namibia 10-day holiday from £5,995pp.
Family travel SNORKEL, KAYAK AND DIVE IN THE WILDLIFERICH WATERS OF RAJA AMPAT Gather the whole family and charter a traditional phinisi boat to set sail on the turquoise waters of Raja Ampat, in Indonesia’s West Papua province. Kayak around remote islands and snorkel with whale sharks while your dedicated crew prepare sumptuous meals for you back on board. Steppes Travel can now offer special conservation-focussed itineraries for the chance to help with marine-life surveys and the tagging of manta rays.
Raja Ampat - 8 days from £4,635pp.
Road trip ‘THE WORLD’S GREATEST ROAD TRIP’ - CARRETERA AUSTRAL, CHILE Described by the writer Stanley Stewart as, “the world’s greatest road trip”, the landscape along Chile’s Carretera Austral is extraordinary. Glacierfed lakes shimmer in the radiant sunshine while the imperious Andes are constant travel companions as you drive through northern Patagonia’s most spectacular and least-visited region. Spot condors gliding on the early morning thermals and take a boat trip to San Rafael Glacier. Chile - 12 days from £2,595pp.
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UND E R STANDING
OVERTOURISM BY JUSTIN WATERIDGE
For years I have argued that tourism is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success, in a classic example of the tragedy of the commons. Namely, that tourism is not looking after the goose that lays the golden egg and is in danger of overexploiting that which its success has been created upon – now many sites are welcoming more tourists in their retirement than they did in their prime. The emergence of the term ‘overtourism’ is thus not a new problem but rather a debate that has moved on and, at last, reached a wider audience. What is the problem? On a very basic level, there are more tourists than ever before. The world is getting richer – with an ever-growing middle class emerging in developing countries – and many of these people are spending their disposable income on travel. In 2017, the number of international tourist arrivals grew to 1.3 billion, an increase of 7%. The UN World Tourism 36 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2019
Organisation (UNWTO) forecasts that this will continue to grow in 2018, but at a more sustainable pace of 4-5%. This is most notable in the Indian domestic and the Chinese markets. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, just 10.5 million overseas trips were made by Chinese residents; in 2017, the figure was 145 million – an increase of 1,380%. The China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) predicts that overseas trips by the country’s residents will increase to more than 400 million by 2030. In short, overtourism occurs when there are too many visitors travelling to a particular destination. ‘Too many’ is a subjective term for which there is no benchmark or formula. ‘Too many’ is ultimately defined by the local residents and business owners in each destination. When locals are pushed out due to higher tourist prices, when landmarks are swamped by people, when wildlife is scared away and when fragile environments become degraded – these are all signs of overtourism.
What made the news in 2017 was the sudden backlash from local residents of Venice and Barcelona. The balance tipped and the local residents had had enough â€“ there were marches and posters protesting against the plague of tourists. As a tour operator, we strive to ensure that our and your behaviour is as beneficial as possible to local residents. The travel industry like many others, focuses almost exclusively on growth, with little or no concern for the impacts. After decades of virtually uncontrolled growth, it has crossed a threshold: in many destinations, tourism now demonstrably creates more problems than benefits. It is time for change and Steppes Travel will campaign for quotas on fragile areas, such as Antarctica and the Galapagos, to name but a few. More importantly for you, our clients, we will continue to avoid the crowds by not only taking you to such sites when they are less visited, but by offering the kind of on-the-ground expertise which will take you to places that the madding crowd do not reach. Expertise makes all the difference and enhances your experience.
WRITTEN BY FERGUS BEELEY
SCI ENCE Sustainable travel is at the heart of our ethos – and this autumn, in response to the increasing concern about our carbon footprint, we are launching our “Trees & Science” campaign.
We have created and tailored this campaign in order that, perhaps unlike many carbon balancing and off-setting schemes, our effort can be unambiguous. Firstly, we are planting a 12-hectare wood near Scunthorpe and, secondly, we are supporting a post-graduate student working on nuclear fusion at the University of Oxford. Why did we choose to plant a wood this autumn? Well, we know that the 4,000 trees that we will plant will create a significant carbon sink, while also being great for wildlife and people. Why Scunthorpe? Partly because Scunthorpe is known to have the most polluted air in Britain, partly because we found a willing farmer, and partly because Scunthorpe sits in the halo region of what is called the Northern Forest, a concept supported by Forestry Commission and DEFRA to plant trees across Northern England. Our small 12-hectare wood will improve the local air quality, help the biodiversity and offer a route for walkers and cyclists. But it’s more than that. One of our key sustainability objectives at Steppes Travel is to set a standard to which other tour operators aspire. The 12-hectare wood is a ‘flagship’ for a larger, longer-term project led by Steppes Travel and The Woodland Trust, which aims to include other travel operators and airlines in the creation of a 3,600-hectare forest around Scunthorpe. The model we have created (which will hopefully gain traction with others in the travel industry) functions whereby a
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Looking east: land to be planted with trees by Steppes.
‘concession’ is purchased from a landowner, thereby unlocking the land for woodland-creation subsidies via The Woodland Trust. The 4.5 million trees required for the bigger Scunthorpe Forest will make a huge contribution to the government’s target to plant 11 million trees by 2022. What about the science part of our Trees & Science campaign? Nuclear fusion, the process that powers the Sun, can play a big part in our carbon-free energy future. As an energy source, nuclear fusion is theoretically safer than nuclear fission, with less radioactivity in operation and little nuclear waste. From September, Steppes is funding Nicolas Christen, one of 14 doctoral students working with Prof Michael Barnes in the Plasma Physics Group at the University of Oxford. By funding a student, we are adding brainpower to an already amazing team. Though the creation of power from nuclear fusion might be called the ‘Everest’ of current energy research, we feel that it is vitally important to try and conquer it. Steppes Travel is proud to support important work into future energies, and along with the mission to create the Scunthorpe Forest, we feel that we are not just proving to be sustainable, but really contributing to Britain’s environment going forward. Of course, we will always push on the issue of singleuse plastics, which has been our focus for many years now. And, from September, our ‘Making A Difference’ programme will fund more than 20 targeted projects that support girls’ education, female empowerment and wildlife conservation in destinations worldwide.
Nicolas Cristen at JET, the Joint European Torus, the worldâ€™s largest operational magnetically-confined plasma physics experiment, located at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, UK. Culham is owned and operated by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).
The 12-hectare community wood will be on the other side of the underpass, beside a canal towpath, and is accessible on foot and bike in just five minutes from the town of Brigg, on the outskirts of Scunthorpe.
A plasma may be produced in the laboratory by heating a gas to an extremely high temperature, which causes such vigorous collisions between its atoms and molecules that electrons are ripped free, yielding the requisite electrons and ions. A similar process occurs inside the sun and stars.
Nicolas Cristen at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, UK.
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WRITTEN BY DEBORAH BROCK-DOYLE
CUT FROM A DIFFERENT CLOTH
UZBEKISTAN I feel buoyed and eager as we leave Tashkent to journey along one of the strands of the famous Silk Road. Itâ€™s a part of the world immersed in history and fundamental to the captivating stories that I read as a child. My driver sweeps along the route and passes between cotton fields with smooth movements that you would expect from someone who has traversed this place a thousand times. >
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“As I enter the square, I’m greeted by three beautiful buildings: the iconic madrasahs.”
I am excited as we near Samarkand – once a thriving link in the trade along the Silk Road. This is a place where a rich heritage is sewn into the streets and culture. Along these very paths, silk, paper and jade were sent to the west. Wool, gold and silver travelled in the opposite direction. And Samarkand sat proudly in the centre, very much at the heart of it all. We roll to a stop and I am eager to escape the confines of the car. As I step out onto the street, I catch myself wondering what life would have been like here when trade along the Silk Road was flourishing. I imagine a raucous clash of travellers moving in every direction, with newly-introduced cultures and peoples finding ways to exist side by side for the first time. It would have been circus-like but full of colour and energy. My driver shares a few last, friendly tips
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and smiles as he wishes me well on my way. Walking through the crowds, I find that Samarkand begins to open up to me. Architectural and decorative treasures are found high and low. Majesty is stitched into every corner imaginable. And nowhere epitomises this more than my first destination, Registan Square. As I enter the square, I’m greeted by three beautiful buildings: the iconic madrasahs. These towering edifices are each as equally stunning as the other, with mesmerising and intricate patches of blue, green and yellow decorating their climbing walls. Their broad arches hide ceilings covered by delicate tiling that forms geometric patterns. What really strikes me are the turquoise domes and the dazzling vibrancy of the towers and arches set against a cloudless sky. These madrasahs were once Islamic schools of learning, but now they stand as a tribute to the success and opulence that the riches of the Silk Road brought.
I could stay longer, revisiting at sunset and sunrise to marvel as the colours deepen and change, but I am equally excited about my next stop, Bukhara. A former capital and major centre of Islamic teaching and learning, Bukhara is modern city hiding ancient treasures. I make my way to the Ark Fortress first – perhaps the most impressive of all these treasures. As I step up to the fortress, I try to relive all the history that I know has taken place here. Over 15 centuries, troops from across the world, including those of Genghis Khan and the Red Army, have tested its resolve. And yet here it stands – over 800 metres of perimeter walls still protecting what are now museums within. I also discover that Bukhara is a wonderful place to walk as I wander along the narrow streets of the old city, catching a glimpse of daily life and coming across fascinating workshops at
My final destination in Uzbekistan is the oasis city of Khiva, which has history and character woven into its very fabric. Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the ancient city has been beautifully preserved. For a time, the locals were ushered away to better protect the buildings, but they are now steadily making their way back and creating a living museum with charming displays of locally-woven carpets and intricately-crafted woodwork. Visible from my lookout atop the old city walls – and as if calling time on my stay – the sun begins to set spectacularly in the distance. The blood-red orb burns into the horizon below. The desert turns orange in the fading light.
the same time. There are metal workers tapping away, as well as silk dyers, weavers and many other skilful artisans. After a couple of hours of walking and talking to the locals, I sit down at a chaikhana (tea house) and revive myself with a cup of Uzbekistan’s fragrant tea. Served in blue-andwhite porcelain bowls and sweetened with sugar, this staple of the Silk Road is surprisingly refreshing, despite the heat. Made from green tea leaves rather than black, it is easy to drink without milk.
Looking back, the turquoise blues of the tiled minarets sparkle. The Silk Road may be gone, but its treasures still decorate this little-changed landscape. Beneath me, a lone artisan threads her way through the ancient streets as the laughs of children travel on the still dusk air. The scene is timeless - history and humanity beautifully interwoven.
Uzbekistan 10-day holiday from £1,700pp.
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WRITTEN BY VANESSA HUMPHREY
USA MORE THAN A WA L K I N T H E PA R K S I X M U S T-V I S I T PA R K S IN THE USA
The national parks of the USA boast sandstone arches, mighty rivers, soaring mountains and crashing waterfalls. From jagged coastlines and fossil-rich reserves to remote volcanic regions and deep canyons, these varied parks are made up of both world-renowned vistas and unsung sights. But where to go? What to do? The sheer quantity of options can overwhelm. Thanks to our contacts and experience, our holidays build on the magnificence of these parks and take the experience one step further â€“ think horseback herding alongside wranglers, sunrise photography lessons in Monument Valley or joining a palaeontology dig in Utah. Untarnished, wild, and full of secrets, these parks are a grown-upâ€™s playground. Uncover our choice of six national parks that are made for exploring.
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GORGES AND COASTLINES NA PALI COAST STATE WILDERNESS PARK Not a national park but rather one of the lesser known state parks, the Na Pali Coast is dazzling in its beauty. Showcased as the panoramic backdrop in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, it is situated on the relatively little-visited Hawaiian Island of Kauai and is renowned for its soaring sea cliffs, slender valleys, babbling streams and tumbling waterfalls.
Steppes Travel’s Must-Do: Those without a fear of heights can embark on the Kalalau Trail – a steep track that cuts through five of the park’s valleys – to reach Kalalau Beach. Here, camp for a night or two at Hanakoa in the embrace of an ancient rain-etched valley, sleeping under a blanket of stars and listening to the crashing ocean. Na Pali Coast 10 days from £4,840pp.
CLIFFS AND WAVES ACADIA NATIONAL PARK Along the rugged coast of Maine, lies a coalescence of rolling waves, unspoiled lakes, lush woodlands, granitedomed mountains and wild islands. Eclipsed by some of its more prominent counterparts, Acadia National Park is still defined by the lingering traditional values that were first enforced by the region’s wealthy homeowners. Vehicles are prohibited in many areas of the park – instead, horse-drawn carriages and bicycles traverse the old roads. Gilded Age mansions still survive in the quaint seaside town of Bar Harbour.
Steppes Travel’s Must-Do: Winding through the core of the national park, the tree-lined road system provides miles of uninterrupted bicycle routes that are shared by horse riders, pedestrians, moose and black bears alike. Cyclists can navigate the 43-kilometre-long Park Loop or embark on the challenging Summit Road that takes them to the top of the ironically named Cadillac Mountain. Acadia National Park 12 days from £4,595pp.
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GULLIES AND ARCHES ZION NATIONAL PARK Combining soaring crimson cliffs, unique geological formations, major arches, narrow canyons and some of the darkest night skies in the United States, Zion National Park is a world-renowned hiking destination. Its spring-fed pools and cascading waterfalls offset its deceptively-parched appearance. Suitable for both gentle and strenuous treks, scenic drives and even wilderness camping, this dramatic desert landscape is interspersed with forested plateaus, narrow meandering canyons and towering cliffs that combine to create an immersive world of natural wonders.
Steppes Travel’s Must-Do: For an authentic adventure, embark on a day of exploratory canyoneering. Squeeze through canyons that are sometimes barely wide enough, combining route-finding, rappelling, problem-solving, swimming, and hiking. Whilst carving out a route through this 150-million-year-old landscape, look out for peregrine falcons, bald eagles and Californian condors. Zion National Park 11 days £3,150pp.
LAKES AND MOUNTAINS CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK Encompassing mountains, pinnacles, evergreen forests and its namesake, Crater Lake National Park in the Pacific Northwest is a diverse habitat that teems with hummingbirds, black bears, chipmunks, coyotes and more. Crater Lake – the deepest in the country at 588 metres – owes its formation to the volcanic collapse of Mount Mazama and its crystalline clarity to snow meltwaters. With its compelling combination of sapphire waters, enveloping precipices and violent volcanic history, this park dazzles in flurries of white in winter and blooms in verdant hues of green and blues in the milder months.
Steppes Travel’s Must-Do: Plunging into the translucent waters of this cavernous lake – where rainbow trout and kokanee salmon thrive – is a refreshing experience that only awaits those that have arrived on foot, having earnt it. Crater Lake National Park 12 days £4,985 pp.
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VALLEYS AND WATERFALLS YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK Neither words nor images can adequately describe the grandeur and majesty of Yosemite National Park. Both naturalist John Muir and photographer Ansel Adams openly discussed their struggles to encapsulate its sheer scale and indescribable spirit. Some of the planet’s heftiest trees, tallest waterfalls, most idyllic valleys and greatest rock structures dwell in this park.
Steppes Travel’s Must-Do: Standing atop the iconic granite summit of the Half Dome is the impossible-to-miss highlight of a visit to this national park. The strenuous 27-kilometre Half Dome Hike takes you to the pinnacle of this steely rock, 1,500 metres above the floor of the Yosemite Valley. Yosemite National Park 12 days £5,595 pp.
GEYSERS AND FORESTS YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK The grandfather of all national parks, Yellowstone is world renowned. With wildflower-filled prairies, icy high-altitude lakes and cascading waterfalls, the national park showcases the best of North American wilderness. Unscathed by humanity, Yellowstone is home to mountain lions, bears, coyotes, grey wolves and the world’s largest herd of bison. Meanwhile, rainbow-hued hot springs and ethereal mineral terraces embody the ever-changing nature of this living landscape.
Steppes Travel’s Must-Do: For September 2020, we have designed a unique group tour exploring this park. Offering real exclusivity and behind-the-scenes access, this journey through Yellowstone and neighbouring Grand Teton will be led by biologist and botanist Kevin Taylor. Highlights include photographing wolves, bears and bison, as well as quietly floating down Snake River and staying at private wilderness camps. Yellowstone National Park 8 days group trip £8,495 pp.
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THE ROAD LESS
TRAVELLED GEAR UP FOR A 4X4 SELF-DRIVE ADVENTURE
Whoever came up with the notion that the journey matters more than the destination clearly never flew economy in the back row of the aircraft, next to the toilets. But as far as road trips are concerned, the notion could not be more apposite. The journey is an integral part of the experience and at Steppes Travel, we have come up with a list of 4x4 road trips that even the new Top Gear team would be hard pressed to ignore. The concept of 4x4 self-drive embodies the qualities that we feel should be part of any Steppes Travel holiday. Designed to give you the freedom to dictate your own pace, a self-drive holiday encourages a sense of spontaneity. We will, of course, put together an itinerary for you but do not expect it to be cut and dried. We will make sure you have a robust and reliable vehicle that is perfectly suited to the terrain on which you are driving. We will find you the best accommodation – family run, characterful and the perfect place to relax after a day’s exploring. We will provide you with a picnic hamper for lunch. We will even make recommendations as to where you may want to stop en-route. But these are just recommendations – you can park up wherever the mood takes you. After all, you are in the driving seat and so it is up to you to discover your own memorable moments. So, take back control of your holiday, embrace a spirit of adventure and welcome the wonderful serendipity that a self-drive 4x4 holiday provides.
ARGENTINA Take a 4x4 and drive across the Puna in the Salta region of northwest Argentina. The skies are big and blue, the horizons untouched by human intervention and the landscape is unlike anything you are likely to have seen elsewhere. Vast salt flats, pumice stone fields,
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black lava cones and the occasional oasis give a sense of otherworldliness. The environment is hostile yet the Puna is soul-touchingly beautiful. Argentina 12 days from £3,595 pp.
OMAN Spectacular mountains, coastline and desert make Oman a thrilling country in which to drive. While safe and easy, the roads are no less dramatic; and you will find yourself snaking through impressive wadis in the shadows of towering cliffs. Drive through the Hajar Mountains, stop at the rambling forts in Bahla and Jabreen, stay overnight at the luxurious Alila Jabal Akhdar and finish up in the historic city of Nizwa, with its atmospheric souk. Oman 10 days from £3,950pp.
NAMIBIA If ever a country was made for 4x4 adventures, it is Namibia. Blessed with space, big skies, traffic-free roads and
timeless landscapes, Namibia does its best to focus your eyes anywhere but on the road. One of our favourite areas is Hoanib, in the north-west of the country, where the desert-adapted wildlife and extraordinary terrain combine to make a driving experience like no other. Namibia 12-day holiday from £2,495pp.
INDIA Travel on the old Hindustan - Tibet Road, which was once part of the ancient Silk Route, to the remote region of Spiti. Cut off from the rest of the country for half of the year, Spiti is a part of India that few tourists get to see. Its high mountain passes, Buddhist strongholds and Himalayan panoramas make for a remarkable driving experience. Due to the remote nature of this itinerary, Steppes Travel will provide a guide vehicle to lead the way. India 16 days from £5,795pp.
BHUTAN Taking the wheel on your own 4x4 driving adventure in Bhutan is a new and exciting opportunity. With the Himalayan mountains as your constant out-riders, this trip goes over Chelila Pass at 4,000 metres to give you outstanding views of Kanchenjunga, before dropping into the Haa Valley. Also drive through Gangtey and the Phobjikha Valley, stopping to visit remote temples and mountain communities. Due to the remote nature of this itinerary, Steppes Travel will provide a guide vehicle to lead the way. Bhutan 12 days from £4,295pp.
EGYP T TRACKING DOWN AN ANCIENT CIVILISATION
WRITTEN BY TOM FROST
It certainly doesn’t take a detective to figure out why Agatha Christie was seemingly so bewitched by Egypt and, in particular, the River Nile. Lush verges provide a buffer for the clear, glass-like water that runs between them. In the distance, iconic pyramids tower over the landscape and act as an imposing reminder of this country’s unequalled history. The sun caresses everything that it touches. It’s a blissful view, to say the least. What I love about the Nile is its constant ability to surprise you. And, as I sit aboard the beautiful Sanctuary Sun Boat IV waiting to dock, I ponder my next destination - the town of Kom Ombo and its unusual temple. Bathed in sunlight, we wander over to the entrance of the temple, spending plenty of time admiring the architecture and its fascinating hieroglyphics. On closer inspection, I can see that this temple is very different from the others I have explored in Egypt. Our guide slowly shepherds us around the entrance, pointing out the intricacies that few would ever spot. He explains that the temple is dedicated to two different gods – the crocodileheaded god Sobek and the falcon-headed god Horus. The ‘double’ design – where rooms are duplicated to honour both gods – is a rarity in Egypt. Because of this, perfect symmetry runs along the main axis of the building. We venture into the temple. At the heart of the building, it is obvious to see how the structure’s architecture was built to reflect the dedication to two deities; the main corridor is split down the middle – Horus to the west and Sobek to the east. But as we creep forward and go deeper into the temple, the condition of the building changes and it is obvious now that large sections of it lie in ruins. However, the parts that still stand are particularly magnificent. Even the original decorative colours – bright pops of red and blue – are still vivid in places. We move on. Passing through the various passageways, our guide introduces us to more of the gods’ histories and what makes this temple so unique. He recounts how the locals named it the Temple of Sobek, due to the abundance of crocodiles in this area of the Nile. Sobek was associated with power, fertility and protection by
the ancient Egyptians – and the crocodiles, by association, were cherished. Live crocodiles were even kept by rulers and eventually mummified, much like the pharaohs of the time. As our guide continues on, I am surprised to learn that the two gods honoured here were actually at war with each other. The question of why the ancient Egyptians would put two opposing deities together into one temple doesn’t appear to have a definitive answer. And while I ponder this question throughout the afternoon, I come to realise that I have fallen into a common trap. I have mistakenly assumed that the secrets of Ancient Egypt have all been uncovered. The truth is that the iconic pyramids are well understood, but dig beneath the surface and this ancient civilisation still hides many mysteries. Regardless of how well explored this area is, there will always be so much more to discover.
Egypt 11-day holiday from £3,495pp.
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WRITTEN BY ROB GARDINER
OUR PIONEERING E X P E R T-L E D TO U R TO
Being eye to eye with a forest elephant is a rare privilege. Imagine this feeling whilst waves crash in the background and the scent of seawater hangs in the air. It is these kinds of surreal moments that Gabon excels at. The surfing hippos that made this country famous were conspicuously absent during my visit in January 2019. However, I was lucky enough to spot dazzling turacos flitting through jungle, watch unhabituated lowland gorillas play and sit amidst the whirling flames and drug-fuelled chants of a Bwiti ceremony. Loango National Park's wild coast
Butterfly in Langoue Bai, Ivindo National Park
Bwiti ceremony, Lambarene
A family of red river hogs travelling down the shallow river towards Langoue Bai, Ivindo National Park, Gabon
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The viewing tower in Langoue Bai, Ivindo National Park
Langoue Bai's salt-rich mud from above, Ivindo National Park
Dawn burning through the mist at Langoue Bai, in Ivindo National Park
Forest elephant emerging from the forest and heading towards the beach in Loango National Park, Gabon
JOIN OUR NEXT DEPARTURE IN JANUARY 2020
Book your place email@example.com
Gabon - Wildlife and Culture of Africa’s Eden Accompanied by Guillermo Casasnovas 11th – 23rd January 2020 | £6,995pp This trip showcases all that Gabon has to offer – from its crashing waterfalls and captivating spiritual rituals to its beach-roaming wildlife and impenetrable rainforests. • Discover the vast Ivindo National Park – home to Langoue Bai • Visit Loango National Park to encounter forest elephants and trek for lowland gorillas • Experience an iboga-fuelled Bwiti ceremony deep within Gabon’s inaccessible interior
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BRAZIL ONCAFARI: GETTING ITS CLAWS INTO CONSERVATION BY MARIO HABERFELD, CO-FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF THE ONCAFARI PROJECT
Oncafari, one of our expert partners, is an NGO which works to protect the endangered jaguars and maned wolves in Brazil. This pioneering conservation project aims to promote ecotourism by habituating the wild animals with the team’s vehicles; meaning the jaguars do not see them as a threat and enabling the researchers to identify, monitor and understand these animals in their natural environment. This, in turn, offers the small number of visitors to the area a unique insight into their behaviour and that ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to see these magnificent creatures at close range. >
Oncafari’s work at Caiman Ecological Refuge, in the Pantanal, is going from strength to strength. Jaguar sightings this year have been better than ever and we are not yet in the dry season – considered the best time to see jaguars in the Pantanal. This year, up to June, we have had close to 300 jaguar sightings and over 90% percent of guests have seen at least one jaguar during their stay. Not only have jaguar sightings been great, but all wildlife has been blooming this year; sightings of ocelots, caimans, toco toucans and hyacinth macaws have been equally fantastic. June was a very special month for Oncafari, and especially for our Rewild Team. Three years ago, on 9th June 2016, we set two orphaned jaguars, Isa and Fera, free. These two jaguars were rescued when they were only two months old and, had we not stepped in, then they would have been behind bars in captivity for life. When we accepted the challenge of rewilding these jaguars, we couldn’t possibly have imagined that we would have such a fantastic outcome. It was something beyond our wildest dreams. They were rescued and put into a purpose-built enclosure at the heart of Caiman Ecological Refuge. They spent over a year there before being set free. With lots of hard work, dedication and the support of great professionals and partners, we achieved amazing results, giving hope to the species in other biomes of Brazil, where jaguar populations are under threat. Today, Isa and Fera are completely wild and free. And have both reproduced in the wild. Isa gave birth to Aurora (a female) and Fera gave birth to Ferinha (male) and Olympia (female). In a not-so-distant future, we hope to be able to begin the same process in the Atlantic Forest, where it is estimated there are fewer than 200 jaguar individuals and the population will soon be extinct without help. Back in 2018, we started a new project at Pousada Trijuncao with a focus on the maned wolf – an iconic species of the Brazilian Cerrado. This fantastic new boutique lodge is in a beautiful conservation area bordering Grande Sertao Veredas National Park. Almost a year ago, we started placing camera traps in the area to register some of the animals that occur in the area. We
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have identified a huge number of resident species, including deer, anteaters, tapirs, foxes and, of course, maned wolves. To our surprise we have also identified seven jaguars, two of them being black. Black jaguars do not occur in the Pantanal, so this is a first for our team and we are very excited at the possibility of seeing these rare cats. And the progress of this new project? Well, the maned wolf habituation process has been working very well and we already have three individuals that are quite relaxed around our vehicles. Guests are getting to see them in their natural habitat. We hope that with time we can habituate even more animals and perhaps even some of the black jaguars. Apart from these two great lodges, Oncafari works with two purely scientific projects - one in the Amazon Rainforest and another in the Atlantic Forest. As in Caiman Lodge, the species we work with in the Amazon is the jaguar. We have been rewilding a couple of female cubs that were found when they were only a few days old. We have constructed a huge enclosure for them in the forest and have been training them to become wild again. They are already hunting effectively and we hope to
be able to release them into the wild sometime in the second half of this year. This will be another step in the right direction towards our goal of saving jaguar populations in other biomes of Brazil and even in other countries where they are highly under threat.
POUSADA TRIJUNCAO A wildlife-rich boutique property which offers fantastic service
In the Atlantic Forest, we are studying the habits of the maned wolf and believe that what we learn there can also be used at Pousada Trijuncao. It has been a great first half of the year and we hope to have more good news soon. All the best and thank you all for your support. By MARIO HABERFELD, Co-Founder and Director of the Oncafari Project
EXPERIENCE ONCAFARI FOR YOURSELFâ€Ś Join our 11-day small group adventure which explores Pousada Trijuncao, the Oncafari Maned Wolf Project and the Pantanal. Departs 13th August 2020, from ÂŁ4,995pp.
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WRITTEN BY PAUL CRAVEN
CHINA A Different Asia
We wander steadily throughout the day and just watch the events unfold. It occurs to me that I have only seen three ‘classic’ crimson-robed monks so far. I ponder how there are few pure forms of religions surviving in Asia. Instead, many hazier hybrids coexist – much like Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan, Orthodox Christianity and Shamanism in Russia, and Buddhism and Animism in Myanmar. Often their values and beliefs crossover and creep into ways of life.
I have been travelling to China ever since my backpacker days, way back in the early 80s. And while I’m always happy to share my experiences from across Asia, talking about China is something that continues to grip me – it’s a place of such history, culture and well-meaning people. On this occasion, I am accompanying our textile and cultural group tour to Gansu and Qinghai provinces in central China. This is a genuine treat, as our leader Gina Corrigan is an expert on Miao and Tibetan costumes. So much so, that her collections are admired by many and can be found at the World Museum in Liverpool and the British Museum in London.
The festival continues with a frenetic energy around us, groups performing elaborate and hypnotic dances. Women with beautifully-plaited hair and carrying huge oblongs of cloth move like robots in the courtyard. Children follow their mothers whilst wearing decorative costumes. This is certainly far different from many of the experiences Asia has shared with me. And I am grateful for it. Seeing and doing things differently is what we strive for at Steppes Travel. And as pine-scented smoke swirls in the sky above me and singing echoes across the crowds, I realise the importance of connecting people with these littleknown places.
Travelling to this remote region of China offers a chance to see a different side of the country – one away from the crowds, which are often so hard to escape – and to get amongst Tibetan people, yaks and the simplicity on offer. It’s too far out for most tourists and is rendered delightfully peaceful because of this. A highlight of this tour is the two-day Shaman Festival. Moving from place to place, this festival offers a different perspective on Buddhism compared to what is usually found in the area. The festival itself is enthralling and a hive of nonstop activity. The shamans, accompanied by their helpers, appear in the courtyard. They all seem to froth at the mouth and are completely entranced. One then separates from the group, climbs onto a parapet above the temple and pours alcohol, yoghurt and pine branches onto a fire. I stand and watch as the smoke forms thick, bulbous plumes and swirls upwards towards the sky. The initial drama slowly dies away and we venture out into festivities. The air is filled with the sound of comedy sketches, dancing and singing. The whole scene is dotted with a flock of stilt walkers and men in papier-mache masks. Colour and excitement bursts all around us.
China 10-day holiday from £3,300pp.
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OUR 2020 EXPERT-LED
GROUP TOURS Over the years, we have learnt that quality always trumps quantity. Our experts have been meticulously selected for their expertise; group sizes are always carefully considered for your enjoyment; and we’ve made sure that we can connect you to the finest experiences right across the world. Added up, it means that every trip is insightful, intimate and diverse. Below is just a selection from our portfolio for 2020, more can be viewed in our new brochure and on our website. Get in touch with our experts to request your free copy of our Expert-Led Group Tours brochure or to book your place on one of our tours: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ERITREA - INSIDE AFRICA’S FORGOTTEN KINGDOM ACCOMPANIED BY A LOCAL GUIDE 4th – 14th March 2020 | £2,995pp Explore this nascent and isolated country. From the Art Deco architecture and Coptic churches of Asmara to the Aksumite ruins and dramatic canyons of Adi Keyh, Eritrea is alive with culture, history and natural beauty. • Explore Asmara, rebuilt as Africa’s ‘Little Rome’ by Mussolini • Visit the low-lying Red Sea coast and the dramatic highlands • Admire Ottoman buildings, as well as Aksumite ruins
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS CRUISE ACCOMPANIED BY JONATHAN GREEN 12th – 22th April 2020 | £6,995pp Spend eight days aboard Natural Paradise and explore the western and southern islands of the Galapagos archipelago in the company of seasoned naturalist Jonathan Green. This trip lets you enjoy Darwin’s haven in total comfort. • Explore the marine-rich western islands of the Galapagos • Wildlife highlights include sea lions, penguins, giant tortoise and blue-footed boobies • Spend eight days sailing on Natural Paradise - with a guide to passenger ratio of 1:8
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GEORGIA – TRANSCAUCASIA HIGHLIGHTS ACCOMPANIED BY IAN COLVIN 10th – 22nd May 2020 | £3,995pp From the moment that you touch down, you will discover a delicate balance of spectacular mountain scenery, vineyards, historic watchtowers and lush green valleys. This is your chance to get off the beaten track and discover Georgia in ways that few have the chance to. • Explore ancient cave cities and hilltop monasteries • Discover religious art and architecture from a range of archaeological sites • Sample Georgia’s delicious food and innumerable wines
GREECE - EXPLORING ANCIENT EPIRUS ACCOMPANIED BY CAROLYN PERRY
MALAYSIA - BORNEO WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY ACCOMPANIED BY GEORGE CHAN
3rd – 11th September 2020 | £3,495pp
29th September, - 6th October 2020 | £4,495pp
Focussing not only on the great city-states of the south, but on some of the fascinating sites of the regions of Acarnania, Epirus and Boeotia. The names of these regions of ancient Greece may be unfamiliar, but the events, personalities and settings will be well-known.
This tour is perfectly suited for those that have a genuine interest in conservation issues at a grass root level, and a love of the rainforest, wildlife and photography.
• Retrace the famous battle of Leonidas and his 300 Spartans • Visit the archaeological site of Nikopolis – the largest ancient city in Greece • Explore the labyrinthine passageways of the Sanctuary of Persephone and Hades
• Receive expert photographic tuition throughout from George Chan • Behind-the-scenes access at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre • Explore Gomantong Caves, the largest cave system in Sabah
INDIA - TRIBES OF NAGALAND AND ARUNACHAL PRADESH ACCOMPANIED BY JOE PARKES 16th November – 2nd December 2020 | £4,495pp Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland are India’s last frontiers and are home to a way of life that is fast disappearing.This tour is for anybody wanting a fascinating yet sensitive insight into the world of north-east India’s last tribal elders. • Gain a unique insight into the charismatic tribes of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh • Spend time in the Ziro valley at the Apatani tribal villages of Hong, Hari and Hija • Visit Pasighat, the gateway to Arunachal, renowned for its waterfalls and hanging bridges
UGANDA H A L F B I R D, H A L F D I N O S A U R BY CHARLES JEWITT
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“Yesterday, today and tomorrow.” Our guide Elias slowly pronounces each word with the edifying manner that we are quickly becoming accustomed to. I trace along his outstretched finger towards a large flowering plant, hues of blue and indigo, pierced with white blooms. It’s a waiver from his preferred subject, birds, but a welcome one. I’m in Uganda, the pearl of Africa. Seconds earlier, we had been bumping along the untarmacked road, red dust billowing out from beneath the Land Cruiser’s tyres. This is Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda’s largest national park. The day is young, but our list of sightings is already growing Jackson’s hartebeest, oribi, buffalos and Ugandan kobs. There are birds aplenty and I reach for a copy of Stevenson’s Guide, the vade mecum for any birder in East Africa, for assistance. But with over 450 species in this park alone, my fingers cannot flick the well-thumbed pages fast enough. Thankfully, Elias is on hand, masterfully identifying each and every bird. His trained eye pinpoints with laser precision the smallest movement on distant branches. Piapiacs, carmine bee-eaters, Heuglin’s francolins, Abyssinian ground hornbills, veracious doves and several more species are identified before I’ve even spotted them. Fortunately, I can’t miss the six-metre-tall giraffe standing in the middle of the road as we round a bend, its doe-eyed
expression turning to surprise. Gracefully, the rangy long legs make way for us, its giant stride carrying away the burnt-umber-splattered mosaic in the direction of a nearby acacia tree, the tufted ossicones brushing the clouds as it walked. Rothschild’s giraffes are amongst the key attractions to be found in the park and numbers are growing. Over 1,500 now roam north of the Nile in Murchison, the majority of the global population. Such a concentration, however, leaves the sub-species exposed and efforts are underway to spread the giraffes’ range to new locations south of the Nile. Murchison has oil and a large road construction into the park is underway to exploit it. Hopefully, the animals can live alongside the development. Otherwise, today’s long necks of Murchison risk being replaced by those of nodding donkeys. >
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Herds of buffalo come into view and the curved horns of sleeping kobs give away their position in amongst the vegetation. From beneath a Borrasus palm, the low euphony of an elephant’s sonorous rumble is broken by the cracking of branches as the rest of his family lumbers noisily into view. A small group of skittish kobs break from their herd, white bobbing tails fleetingly flashing before me as they leap across the road. Thew and sinew tense their flaxen sides as their svelte elegant lines cut the sun’s morning rays, before they dive hastily into the safety of longer grasses. As we draw closer to Lake Albert, the ground opens up, tussocks of grass surrounding dried-out pools. The sun is up now and our camera clicks become more sporadic. It feels like the best of the morning’s game drive is done. But it isn’t, not just yet. This is my first trip to Africa, but I’m travelling with experienced Africaphiles on the lookout for something new. Having drawn a blank at Mabamba Swamp the day before, they had laid down the gauntlet to Elias. And there it is - our early Christmas present. Elias is victorious. Half dinosaur, half bird with a clog for a beak, one of Uganda’s most sought-after sightings is sitting right in front of us, the shoebill. What the Mabamba Swamps couldn’t provide, Murchison Falls can. We rush to grab the cameras that we had by now discarded, resuming the synchronised clicking, desperate to capture frames before this typically shy bird takes flight. However, rather than scarper, it seems intrigued by the clicking, raising itself to its full one-and-a-half-metre height and taking a step towards us. Then it takes another, head tilting each time another camera clicks. Seemingly realizing he is on show, we are offered a full catwalk display, feathers on show, wings outstretched. I’m poised ready for the second he takes flight, but the moment never comes. Having finished his show, he nonchalantly returns to his starting place and sits back down to rest. The afternoon brings more adventures. Nile Beer in hand, we head up the river to the base of Murchison Falls. Hippos, elephants and crocodiles line the banks as the boat zips by.
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The noise of the falls grows and the water begins to froth as we draw closer. The view from the boat is stunning, but the plan is to climb up for a closer look. The sun now searing above, I look up at the winding steps through the trees to the top of the falls and slowly begin to climb. As we reach the top and stand near the edge, my legs can feel the tremors of the torrent reverberating through the stone. The thunderous flow of water squeezing itself through the six-metre narrow channel of rocks, roaring angrily at the inconvenience of being held up on its way downstream. Sadly, the chance to see and feel this incredible natural wonder might soon be gone. An application has been made to turn the falls into a hydroelectric dam, with untold consequences to the park’s wildlife, including its shoebills. No wonder the river sounds so angry.
Uganda Nine-day holiday from £4,095pp.
â€œHippos, elephants and crocodiles line the banks as the boat zips by. The noise of the falls grows and the water begins to froth as we draw closer.â€?
WHY YOU MUST BOOK AHEAD TO SEE ONE
Bears are synonymous with Canada. Grizzly bears, black bears and spirit bears. They are feared, revered, hunted, protected, and creatures of legends and fairy tales. To the First Nation peoples, they are the protectors of the animal kingdom and represent strength, courage and family. The bears are at the heart of their cultural and spiritual practices as much as they are at the centre of the surrounding ecosystem. >
Viewing bears in the wild is magical, moving and utterly exhilarating. Little wonder then, that bear viewing is one of the most popular past time of visitors to Canada. However, there are limited bear-viewing lodges and it may come as no surprise that you must book around a year in advance to get the best chance of having your own bear encounter. There are several ways to view bears. Each option is different and equally rewarding. In the spring, they can be seen at lower altitude and on the coast, often with cubs afoot. During the summer, while the weather is more reliable, the bears move higher into the mountains and it is the busiest time to
travel in British Columbia. As autumn approaches, the salmon runs begin and the bears congregate in the rivers, sometimes in large numbers, to gorge on the salmon as they prepare for winter and an extensive period of hibernation.
HEADING OUT ON FOOT Hiking in the high alpine meadows and the ancient cedar forests of the Selkirk Mountains is a spectacular and more unusual way to view bears. At Grizzly Bear Ranch, the owner Julius Strauss and his guides take clients on foot to track bears in the remote valleys. With the aid of off-road vehicles, you can access littlevisited regions of inland British Columbia (BC). Moose, elk, wolves, cougars and lynx roam the trails. While the lodge will not guarantee bear sightings, that doesnâ€™t mean itâ€™s not likely. And, frankly, this uncertainty is part of the beauty. Julius is unapologetic about this. The entire ethos at Grizzly Bear Ranch is about natural wildlife experiences. For Julius, it is about chance encounters that transform into meaningful experiences. His passion is no more evident than his instrumental role in the banning of grizzly bear trophy hunting in BC, which was rolled out in 2017. Bear numbers are increasing as a result. You will not find bear-viewing platforms or managed attractants at Grizzly Bear Ranch. It is simply about experiencing the rawness of the wilderness in a way where the fun is in the search as much as the sighting.
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WRITTEN BY ROXY DUKES
TAKING TO THE WATER In contrast to the wild valleys of inland BC, the Great Bear Rainforest is the largest intact temperate rainforest and is only accessible by boat. A web of rivers, islands and fjords is backed by impenetrable forest to make it one of the most pristine and magical regions to visit. Join a voyage onboard the impressive catamaran Cascadia to navigate the nooks and crannies of this remarkable and breath-taking landscape. As early as May, bears can be seen on the shoreline rooting about for sedge grass, crabs and other intertidal life. The wildlife here is incredibly diverse and there is a good possibility of seeing other animals, such as wolves, bald eagles, sea lions, humpback whales and orcas. Choose from several voyages that explore the coastal waters that extend north of Vancouver Island or travel as far west as the remote Queen Charlotte Islands, also known as Haida Gwaii.
Pacific Yellowfin is an ex-USA Navy and research vessel and now a luxury yacht for private charter for up to 12 passengers or fewer. Explore the Great Bear Rainforest at your own pace or choose to visit Desolation Sound, a remote corner with secret coves and isolated beaches.
bear with a recessive genetic trait that gives it a unique colouration. Stay at Spirit Bear Lodge for the best opportunity to view this elusive bear and for one of the most outstanding cultural experiences in the Great Bear Rainforest.
SPIRIT BEARS One of the rarest creatures in the world, the spirit bear resides in a very small pocket of the Great Bear Rainforest in the Klemtu Region. It is not known exactly how many spirit bears are left in the world, but the figure is believed to sit somewhere between 50 and 150 individuals. The First Nation people of this region, the Kitasoo Xai’xais, believe their creator, Raven, made the spirit bear to symbolise the Ice Age and to act as a reminder to be thankful for the rich and fertile lands from which they reap today. The spirit bear is in fact a black
Bear necessities of travelling to Canada May to October is the best time to view bears and booking early is essential. A first-time visit to Canada, including three days at a bear-viewing lodge, starts from £4,695pp for 15 days. You can also sail the Great Bear Rainforest from £4,295pp, or join our exclusive charter on board the Pacific Yellowfin in 2020 from £8,995pp.
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OUR PLANET SHOWCASING THE WORLD’S NATURAL WONDERS, ICONIC SPECIES AND WILDLIFE SPECTACLES THAT WE MUST PROTECT. If you have not watched any of Our Planet, I would encourage you to do so. The quality of footage is what you would expect of Silverback Films. Together with Netflix, they are not shy in discussing and grappling with wider environmental issues and the dramatic consequences of our behaviour and its effects on the planet. If you only watch one clip, I would urge you to watch the latter part of episode two, Frozen Worlds, and the fate of the walrus tumbling off and down a cliffside. As Attenborough says, “Hundreds fall from heights they should never have scaled.” It is the sad fate of those living at the frontier of climate change.
Episode Two FROZEN WORLDS
Episode One ONE PLANET Exploring the astonishing diversity of life on earth and the global connections of our planet. Did you know? Wildlife populations globally have declined by 60% in less than 50 years. What to see? The famous Great Migration of wildebeest occupies the Serengeti for most of the year, offering one of the greatest wildlife shows on earth. See the wildebeest eluding the predators for yourself.
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Discovering some of the Earth's last remaining wildernesses. Despite us just beginning to really understand them, the poles are changing achingly fast. Did you know? The Arctic has lost over 40% of its sea-ice cover since 1980. What to see? The Antarctic Peninsula offers the biggest variety of wildlife. The Weddell Sea has huge icebergs and emperor penguins while cruising the Ross Sea will reveal a more remote and unbelievable ice shelf, along with the iconic explorer huts.
Episode Three JUNGLES Jungles and rainforests are the oldest and most diverse ecosystems on our planet. Did you know? In the last four decades, the Borneo rainforest that orangutans depend on has declined by a staggering 75%. What to see? Come face to face with the worldâ€™s most endangered great ape â€“ the orangutan in Tanjung Puting National Park. Speak to our experts about joining our Orangutan Conservation group tour, led by Ashley Leiman, founder of Orangutan Foundation UK.
Episode Four COASTAL SEAS Our coastal seas are a rich community of plants and animals working together. The shallow seas are vitally important in the fight against climate change. Did you know? Sea grass absorbs 35 times as much carbon dioxide as the same area of rainforest. What to see? Since declaring the once largely-fished-out Raja Ampat in Indonesia a sanctuary in 2007, marine biologists have seen 25 times more sharks and three times more fish in the area. Sail and snorkel off the waters of Misool, in the remote southern Raja Ampat - one of the few places on earth where biodiversity is increasing.
Episode Five FROM DESERTS TO GRASSLANDS Our planetâ€™s grasslands are the rich home to our big land animals, but they are shrinking. Life in the grasslands depends on space. Did you know? A fifth of all the land on earth is covered by deserts. What to see? 80% of Namibia is desert and it is amazing to see how the wildlife has adapted to this harsh environment. On safari youâ€™ll find elephants, oryx, lions, kudu and even rhinos making the long trek in search of water.
Episode Six THE HIGH SEAS Venture into the deep, dark and desolate oceans that are home to an abundance of beautiful and downright strange creatures. Did you know? 90% of all large ocean hunters have disappeared. Without them to manage the food chain, marine life is declining and changing beyond recognition.
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What to see? Humpbacks were hunted to near extinction and were saved by a ban on commercial whaling in 1986. Since then there has been a rapid increase in their numbers. See them in their vast and majestic groups in Baja California, Mexico, Alaska, off the Hermanus coast in South Africa or in Kaikoura in South Island, New Zealand.
Episode Seven FRESH WATER Without fresh water, life on land would not exist. It is the most precious resource on our planet, but it is finite. Did you know?
What to see?
A single tree in the Amazon rainforest can give off 1,000 litres of water vapour per day.
The Mekong River boasts the world’s largest inland fishery. It produces up to a quarter of the world’s total haul of freshwater fish – 2.5 million tonnes a year – and provides livelihoods for at least 60 million people.
Episode Eight FORESTS We have cut much of our forests down, but they have a magical resilience. They can regenerate, rebuild and re-wild - if only we can give them the chance. Did you know? The arboreal forest extends from Russia to North America. It contains 750 billion trees and stores over 40% of the world’s carbon, making it a vital element in the fight against climate change. What to see? A third of fossas have disappeared in Madagascar due to the destruction of forests. Search for the elusive and catlike fossa, Madagascar’s largest carnivore, in the lowland dry-forested Kirindy National Park.
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WHERE ELEPHANTS AND WHALES MEET
MOZAMBIQUE BY ILLONA CROSS
Illona Cross, Steppes Travel Africa expert, recounts her experience of a unique project that is taking place in Mozambique’s parks and conservation areas.
A rewilding project is taking place in the relatively new 1,040 km2 Maputo Special Reserve through the Peace Parks Foundation. Eventually, the dream is to connect Africa’s wild spaces in a way where man and nature can live in harmony. In doing so, the special reserve will one day merge with Tembe Elephant Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Kruger National Park. For now, the special reserve boasts 400 elephants, as well as reedbucks, zebras, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles and many birds. Insects and smaller antelope are abundant. And over the last three years, 73 buffalos were relocated to the park to boost numbers. And what about where the land meets the sea? The Ponta de Ouro Partial Marine Reserve offers respite for turtles, whales, dolphins and a variety of coral and non-pelagic aquatic life. The park is a wild extension of the beautiful St Lucian dune forests and saline lake systems that are now part of iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
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Ricky and Paul Bell own Anvil Bay Lodge – the only accommodation in the special reserve. Ricky told me that the last whale season (which takes place from July to November) was the best they had witnessed and that Paul has been visiting that coastline since the seventies, so he has seen many whale seasons pass. I had also heard this reported from various places along the Indian Ocean coastline, which indicated a possible rise in the humpback whale population. Another great beneficiary of the protected status of the coastline is the sea turtle. They come up the beaches in droves in November and December to lay their eggs. Ricky has a team that monitors all the female turtles that visit the area to nest. Mainly giant leatherback and the smaller loggerhead turtles nest on the beach in the night. Hatchlings follow from December to March. Ricky pointed out various places along the beach where last season’s nests were laid.
Anvil Bay is a wild ocean experience â€“ and if you have ever dreamed of living on a remote and deserted beach, this is the place for you. The beach bar is well stocked and the service attentive. The food at Anvil Bay smacks of the sea. The fresh sushi, Mozambican prawns and 'Catch of the Day' certainly made up some of the best food I tasted on my trip. The rooms have been built with such sensitivity that only the thatch protruding from the coastal forest belies their existence. Inside each room, comfort has been well thought out and adapted to the environment. Ricky and Paul have taken time to train the lodge staff who, in turn, support the communities directly bordering the reserve. This gives it palpable value to the people of the area and supports the ethos of the Peace Parks Foundation. In a world where conservation is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons and in a country that is often in the news for its attrition by natural disasters, poverty and political unrest, the positive actions of the Peace Parks Foundation are worthy of a mention. This the kind of lifeaffirming initiative that we are happy to showcase and support. Mozambique Seven-day holiday from ÂŁ2,995pp.
TURNING BACK TIME
EASTERN TURKEY When I heard that the FCO had lifted their warning on travel to eastern Turkey, I was truly warmed to know that people might again be inspired to visit this ‘hidden gem’, ‘buried treasure’ or whichever cliche you choose to signify that this region is a little-known but must-visit destination. >
WRITTEN BY KATIE BENDEN
I thought it only right that I should celebrate the great news by travelling back to the place that is so close to my heart. Some of my fondest memories from my travels are exploring the historic sites and the mystifying landscape of a place that always seems frozen in time. It is certainly a perfect way of glimpsing into the past. My journey begins with a geological, rather than historical marvel, however. With an area of around 3,775 km2 and a unique, soda-swirled chemistry, Lake Van is the world’s largest alkaline lake. The high salinity means that it rarely freezes, even in the very worst conditions, and that it is a particularly tough environment for the local aquatic life. But the lake itself is not the only attraction. Wandering across the sturdy stone paths of the Van Citadel, I stop to gaze at the arid landscape all around me. I look up to the broad stone structure that makes up the castle, the years have been tough to it. But I can sense that, in its prime, the huge blocks of stone would have felt imperious to any invader knocking at its door. I make my way to the lakeshore, eager to catch it before the sun sets and brings a curtain down on these fantastic saline vistas. I am not let down. As I approach the lake, my world opens up to a vast green frame that is crisscrossed with a mixture of lively pink blossoms and blotches of yellow rocks. The centrepiece is a deep-turquoise water body. I breathe it in. The water is particularly spectacular and the blue-green shade is something that I instantly remember from my previous trip. I am told by a fellow traveller that beneath the surface there is a beautiful field of microbialites – living carbonate rock structures - a treat for any diver, no doubt.
“I can feel the horizon drawing nearer on my time in eastern Turkey. One final site remains Mount Nemrut.”
Some left spaces of worship that look almost like crop circles, while others created grand rooms. I ponder what kept drawing people to this area to find spiritual relief over so many generations. Whatever it was, there is an aura that feels special. No wonder, then, that scientists believe that these early structures contributed to a model which would later help to create vast settlements. And eventually, the world we live in today. I can feel the horizon drawing nearer on my time in eastern Turkey. One final site remains - Mount Nemrut. As I pass through the nearby town of Adiyaman, I can feel the excitement rising within me. I have heard a lot about the mountain and its famous stone statues but have yet to see them for myself. It takes me by surprise when I eventually make it. Considered to be a royal tomb, the carved stone heads sit side by side in an almost stern manner, watching guard over the world around them.
The following day, I awake reminiscing about the sunset that I was so eager to hunt down and had the eventual pleasure of witnessing. To watch the intense orange melt gradually and peacefully into that deep blue was simply breathtaking. But there is little time to waste as I set off to visit an icon of Turkey and what is considered the world’s first temple, Gobekli Tepe. It is impossible not to stop for a second as I stand in the ruins - my feet are rooted, and gravity seems to have a tighter-than-usual hold on me. The site simply captures me.
Built to celebrate various past rulers over these lands, the thousands-years-old statues are a bizarre spectacle; the heads have either been removed from or have fallen off the bodies and sit in the distance far behind.
Gobekli Tepe, from a distance, looks like a battered brown mosaic. As I wander and learn more about the history, the brilliance of its creation starts to unravel. The site feels almost ageless. Over thousands of years, different peoples have congregated here to use this place as a spiritual centre.
As I close my eyes that night, images flash through my mind of Lake Van and Gobekli Tepe. Then today’s brush with the headless (or body-less) specimens. The last thing I remember as I drift off is telling myself that I must seek out even more next time.
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Whilst I amble through the vast UNESCO World Heritage Site, I am reminded of everything that eastern Turkey means to me. I have certainly missed the history and heritage that is not just spectacular to view, but also to learn about. Very few places on this planet have had such an impact on the way we live.
Eastern Turkey 12-day holiday from ÂŁ2,650pp.
MEETS NEW BY LARA PAXTON
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platform as one flashes through the station gives a real idea of their speed and power.
Ever-advancing technology and gentle traditions. Silk-like carpets of cherry blossom and the sharp neon glare of Tokyo. Japan is a world of polarity. It’s a country constantly heading forward, with an eye firmly set on its past. And this is why I had yearned to visit for many years. I wanted to see the capital’s bright lights, Kyoto’s kimono-clad geishas and to sample the sumptuous food. My place on our Science and Technology Group Tour – run in partnership with New Scientist magazine – was going to introduce me to parts of Japan that I never knew existed. I found myself in Tokyo, where my expectations proved to be true. The streets were alive with crowds, flickering advertisements and abundant vending machines. Every 10 metres or so, there was one selling everything from hamburgers to clothes. First, I was headed to the Miraikan and a place I knew little about. Even the Miraikan’s alternative name, The National Museum of Emerging Science and Technology, felt like a contradiction of sorts. The old and the new fused perfectly together.
By the time I had reached Kyoto, I was ready to explore and discover old Japan. The area is famous for its geisha – women who have trained for years in the traditional Japanese arts to become the perfect entertainers. I walked among them in the streets and observed their finery and elegance, stopping only to wonder at the huge temples and survey the shops’ offerings. Leaving the mainland behind me, I flew to the stunning island of Okinawa. When I first saw the white coral-fringed beaches from the air, it immediately occurred to me that this wasn’t the Japan I was expecting. In fact, it seemed far more akin to Hawaii or some distant tropical island. The next two days were spent learning from researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology about their incredibly successful coral restoration work that was taking place. Japan is a country which instantly conjures up certain images for people – Mount Fuji, geisha, sushi and temples. But for me, the draw of this country is that the pace at which it moves will mean that every trip will be as fresh and inspiring as the one before.
This impressive museum is at the cutting edge of technology and provides fascinating insights into space and frontier exploration, natural disasters, stem cell research and nextgeneration medicines. It’s a place specifically designed to satisfy the curiosity of the human mind. The following day was spent at the University of Tokyo to attend lectures from leading researchers on advancements in robotics and earthquake research. Every second was captivating and I jotted notes furiously as I tried to keep up with their talks. I was headed for Kyoto next. And this was made all the more special by my mode of transport - the iconic bullet train. Capable of reaching a maximum speed of 320 kilometres per hour, the bullet train is an exceptional experience before you even step on board. I am no train spotter but standing on the
Japan 11-day group tour from £6,695pp.
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TRAVEL READS BY JUSTIN WATERIDGE
Books and travel, above all, are about discovery. And whether it is on your Kindle or the classic paperback, a great story can also make the perfect travel companion. Naturally, the avid readers among the Steppes Travel team are always on the lookout for riveting reads with a travel or historical spin to become engrossed in. We have chosen a few that have stood out for us over the last few months. Each one is perfect for getting inspired about a journey on the horizon.
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OUR TRAVEL READS
ARABS: A 3,000-YEAR HISTORY OF PEOPLES, TRIBES AND EMPIRES TIM MACKINTOSH-SMITH A riveting, comprehensive history of the Arab peoples and tribes. This kaleidoscopic book covers almost 3,000 years of Arab history and shines a light on the footloose Arab peoples and tribes who conquered lands and disseminated their language and culture over vast distances.
TWO WEEKS IN NOVEMBER DOUGLAS ROGERS A thrilling, surreal, unbelievable and often very funny true story of four would-be enemies – a high-ranking politician, an exiled human rights lawyer, a dangerous spy and a low-key businessman turned political fixer – who team up to help unseat one of Africa’s longest-serving dictators, Robert Mugabe.
THE PIANIST OF YARMOUK AEHAM AHMAD Aeham Ahmad’s spellbinding and uplifting true story tells of the triumph of love and hope, of the incredible bonds of family, and the healing power of music in even the very darkest of places.
KINGS OF THE YUKON ADAM WEYMOUTH Weymouth’s searing portraits of these people and landscapes offer an elegiac glimpse of a disappearing world. Kings of the Yukon is a dazzling, empathetic portrait of this river, written from the perspective of one who has kayaked its length.
EYES IN THE NIGHT NOMAVENDA MATHIANE Hopefully you have all heard Rob Caskie speaking on the Anglo Zulu Wars. This is the other side of the story. Nomavenda Mathiane stumbled upon her grandmother’s story well over a century after the gruelling events of the Battle of Isandlwana; the result is a sweeping epic of both personal and political battles.
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